Friday, September 22

Essential but undervalued: Consequences of the inattention to the Public Health workers in The Gambia

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Your Excellency,

Allow me to offer my Eid-Ul-Adha [Tobaski] greetings as we offer prayers on this beautiful day of Arafah. I pray that Allah SWT accept our duas and offerings and grant us all the best home in Jannah, Ameen!

What happens when a nation systematically cuts or underfunds its public health workforce? This is a question frequently asked to my chat. Now I will offer some answers.

Your Excellency, your Government have decided to suspend 371 Public Health Officers for two months in a country highly vulnerable to international trafficking of disease criminals, and among many other chronic public health challenges. This is to say, there will be no services for situational disease surveillance and risk mapping, routine immunization for women and children, no border control for disease criminals, no environmental inspections, limping the COVID-19 response, et cetera in the country for 60days. This is terrible!

Inattention to public health over the next two months will result in a tragedy for the vulnerable while Quadrangle boys act in their selfish interest to the detriment of the common good. Its completely unimaginable that a Country in this day and age will allow the skills of her public health workforce to slowly disappear. It may not be immediately noticeable, but there will come a crisis for which we are completely unprepared. I don’t think you have learnt good lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic.

In one of my letters to the you titled “The Hidden Cracks of Public Health Service in The Gambia” published by the Fatu Network on 03 September 2021, I have categorically informed you that many of our health sector leaders and their staff across the country have experienced threats to their jobs, the threats and harassment need to stop! There is no clear cooperation in whatsoever between decision makers in Quadrangle and public health workers which reflects the lack of genuine concern coupled with chronic hatred clouded with office politics. The attitude of the health leadership continues to trigger dangerous knock-on effects for health care in our country and the vulnerable population face a rising risk of falling through the cracks.

When the whole world is busy preparing for the worst pandemics to come, the Quadrangle boys are busy fanning hate and cadre division with unnecessary threats.

Your Excellency, prolonged disruptions for our immunization services will have serious long term consequences for women and children’s health and wellbeing. You have to step up and address this unfortunate decision of the Ministry of Health and the PMO under the watch of your cabinet.

We need to bolster efforts and take additional and strategic steps to help close the gaps and strengthen public health services in this country. We are lost in no direction. It will be best that you triage the Ministry of Health leadership and examine the deep rooted cancers that frustrates our public health power. Flush them out of the system!

At this point in time, we risk brutal financial support from health donors. Health financing is strategic and highly influenced by results we produce. Remember, our health financing strategy relies on program-based budget allocations. If the people who play extremely key roles in achieving those results are suspended from service, then expect the donors to suspend support for partner funding too.

Disrupting public health services have consequences and it’s irreversible. Essentially, the health work plan for this year is disrupted, and I wouldn’t be surprise to see 75% of this year’s activities to be implemented outside of the ancestral plan.

Your Excellency, your Minister of Health failed to inform you that the Gambia’s health system relies on “dispensed-to-user” data collected from health facility monthly reports. These reports record the consumption rates of health commodity to better advise the drug procurement arrangements for the country. And now you are asking the key players of this task to stay home. We will risk buying medicines and related products we do not need.

In response to the rapid increase in international trafficking of criminal disease threats and other health risk, and as a party to the commitments and the binding provisions of the International Health Regulations (IHR, 2005), the Ministry of Health under your watch have asked Public Health Units at the airport, seaport and ground crossing points to seize operation. How can any serious country consider doing such acts?

Your Government technically asked for the seizure of all operations carried out at National Public Health Emergency Operations Center, and further shutdown the famous 1025 Operations Room denying the general public from health information and advise, asking all those officials to stay home. The Gambia at this point does not have an up-to-date National statistics on its health situation. This is shameful, dangerous and completely unimaginable!

Your Excellency, good health and good sense are two of life’s greatest blessings.


Sheikh Omar Sillah
Public Health Commentator

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect The Monitor’s editorial stance.